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The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims 384pp, Bloomsbury, Telegraph offer price: £17.09 (PLUS £1.95 p&p).Late in the morning of Friday, May 14, a 19-year-old man was rushed to the emergency room of the Indian Medical Center in Gallup, New Mexico.The man’s sudden death was all the more shocking because--other than having some flulike symptoms the previous few days--he had obviously been healthy and athletic; doctors learned later that he was a cross-country track star.Unlike many states, New Mexico requires unexplained deaths to be reported to a central registry, the Office of the Medical Investigator, in Albuquerque. That Friday, emergency room physicians called in Richard Malone, the deputy medical investigator based in Gallup.There is also a darker side to Thoreau’s experiment.Theodor Kaczynski, the Unabomber, lived in an isolated cabin where he wrote political screeds and mailed bombs to American universities.An ambulance crew performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the way to the hospital, but neither they nor the emergency room physicians were able to revive him.
He argued for a life of observation over restless toil (he is also the godfather of anyone who believes in a shortened working week), and believed that a mind that was unconcerned with the natural world would drift into vanity.
As to why he went to Walden Pond, it seems simply that he was feeling down: out-of-sorts and a local oddball.
Yet the chief reason, like all aspiring writers, was that he needed something to write about.
Novelists and painters from Jack Kerouac and Jackson Pollock to Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen have fled to semi-rural retreats.
In the Black Mountain College, a whole university was modelled after Thoreau’s Walden.
Thoreau is a kind of shibboleth who means almost everything to Americans and little for the rest of us.